A former team-mate of Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani, who faces the death penalty for taking part in nationwide protests, told Sky News his friend was a “shy person” and “really nice”.
Speaking from Finland where he is now captain of VPS Vaasa, Sebastian Strandvall said: “Amir was one of the youngsters in our team at the time, he was 19-20 at the time, a rather shy and really nice. … a normal, good guy.”
Nasr-Azadani, 26, was arrested last month as anti-regime protests swept Iran. He was found guilty of murdering a police officer and two militiamen in a trial that human rights groups have described as a sham.
Local reports suggest his confession was coerced and family members were ordered to remain silent.
His former teammate said the court’s decision, which found Nasr-Azadani guilty of “waging war on God”, was absurd. Execution is one of the possible consequences of this crime.
“Knowing Amir’s character, he would go to a protest… he and his friends, would stand up for basic rights, for women’s rights of course because he’s the kind of person who cares about others. But I don’t. don’t see a war against God or anything,” Strandvall said.
The two played side by side at Rah-Ahan FC in Tehran in the 2015-16 season, and Strandvall even offered him accommodation when the young Iranian was left homeless.
“It’s so far from reality”
The Finnish player claims his friend may have participated in the protests but doesn’t believe he would commit a violent act.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling, the shock, it’s hard to understand that it’s really him because it seems so far from reality, that someone could be sentenced to death for taking part in a peaceful demonstration” , did he declare.
Little is known about Nasr-Azadani’s condition, but a German MP is campaigning to raise awareness of his plight.
Andreas Larem, who took over sponsorship of Nasr-Azadani on December 15, told Sky News he had written to Iran’s ambassador to Germany in Berlin and asked the German Foreign Ministry for immediate help to release Nasr-Azadani.
“He should still have some hope, he should know that we are on his side, and that we are really pushing in every way we can to get him out, and that his friends who are also in prison are getting out of this situation. , and I would like to see him and meet him in Germany.”
Protests are a ‘national phenomenon’
As the clerics who rule Iran are challenged in the streets, their forces have grown increasingly violent as they seek to preserve the regime.
The protests in Iran, which are taking place daily, have entered their fourth consecutive month and show few signs of abating. The majority may focus on the Kurdish region of Iran and the capital Tehran, but this is a national phenomenon.
Fueled by a range of grievances, including stifling restrictions on women’s dress, participants are calling for the removal of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as the aging mullahs who support him.
In response, police units and the Revolutionary Guards (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) have castigated those who challenge the state.
Protesters have been beaten and targeted with shotguns – and in recent days the government has started executing protesters.
Trials are a “sham”
Last week, Majidreza Rahnavard, believed to be 23, was publicly hanged from a construction crane. Rahnavard has been accused of “making war on God” after he allegedly stabbed two members of the pro-government militia to death.
Human rights groups and Western governments have called the trial a deception.
According to Amnesty International, more than two dozen protesters face the death penalty.
As police struggle to contain this youthful rebellion, analysts accuse the regime of targeting prominent figures, such as footballers, actors and writers – anyone with the power to influence others.
Iran’s most famous actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, was arrested last week after condemning the state’s use of the death penalty against protesters.
The 38-year-old is best known for her role in the 2016 Oscar-winning film The Salesman.
Despite her international profile, she has sworn not to leave Iran.